Language Development: Four Years Old

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So now your child is four, and their communication is sounding a lot like that of an adult. They are able to understand and express more than ever before, which will come in handy as they begin to prepare for the transition to school.

Vocabulary

By four years your not-so-little-anymore one’s vocabulary will be huge, with around 1500 to 1600 words. Your child will be able to express an enormous amount of information about both the world around them and the world at large. This year, your child will also be learning some academic vocabulary, with your help and the help of your preschool or daycare, including letter names and numbers. You may also notice, as your child becomes a proficient counter and is very familiar with numbers, that they begin to use numbers within sentences (e.g. there are three duck in the water).

Grammar

Over the last couple of years, your child has been working on creating longer sentences, and by now will be using the “heaped” sentences discussed in our post on language development for three year olds. This year you may not find a large increase in the length of your child’s sentences, but they will be working on refining the sentences they produce, making some developments in the grammatical and word structures they use. Their sentences should follow the correct word order, with an occasional mistake here and there. They will also be able to correctly irregular past tense forms (e.g. fell instead of falled) and regular past tense (e.g. watched, stopped, etc.), they will add –‘s to the end of words when talking about possession (e.g. the girl’s bike) and begin to use contractions (e.g. he is becomes he’s, they are becomes they’re). Correct use of lots of different types of pronouns will also be occurring, including first person pronouns (e.g. I, me, my and mine), second person pronouns (e.g. you, your and yours), third person pronouns (e.g. he, she, they, him, her, them, his, hers and theirs) and collective pronouns (e.g. we, us and our).

Receptive Language

If you thought being able to use 1500 words was impressive, you might be blown away to know that when your child turns four they will also understand more than 2500 words. Not only do they know a lot of words, they will continue to rapidly acquire an understanding of any new word that they are exposed to. By four years of age, your child will also be beginning to develop their ability to understand language concepts, like those dealing with sequence (e.g. before, after, then, first, last, etc.), location (e.g. in, on, under, next to, in front of, behind, etc.) and quantity (e.g. some, all, one, more, most, etc.). Your child will also be able to follow instructions with a greater number of steps. At four your child will be able to follow up to three step simple directions (e.g. get your shoes, the hat and my bag), and will expand up to four steps as your child nears their fifth birthday.

Play

Play is an important skill for language development as it is both the means by which children explore the world around them and exercise their social development. At around about the age of four, your child will be engaging in long, detailed pretend play routines. They will be pretending to be characters, act out and interpret their favourite movies and shows, and create whole new imaginative worlds. Around this time you will also see your child engaging in what is known as cooperative play, where play is shared heavily with peers. You will notice more turn-taking and back-and-forth between your child and their friends, and your child will be more likely to both follow and give instructions in play to another.

Speech

Speech and language are separate parts of communication, but let’s take a quick moment to touch on the speech develop you can expect from your child this year. When they turn four, your child should be 80-100% intelligible to an unfamiliar listener. They may still have some age appropriate speech sound errors, but by four these errors tend not to have a significant impact on how well your child can be understood. Your four year old should still have all of the sounds outlined in our three year old post, as well as those outlined in the picture below:

There are also a few sounds that should be appearing around the four and a half mark:

Learn more about typical language development with these other posts in our language development series:

Birth to Six Months
Six to Twelve Months

One Year Old
Two Years Old
Three Years Old
Five Years Old